New Projects… and “Normal”
I have an interesting challenge to work on. An interactive piece that would be up and interacting with hundreds of people a day for a full year. That is a challenge in itself… but the subject even more so.
The stated goals of the curator boil down to this: addressing the concept of “normal” as applied to people with a view towards showing it’s subjectivity/relativity and guiding people into a more open and empathetic view of what “normal” is.
My personal challenge is to find something visual to grab onto and make it interactive. Oh yes… and to pick some smaller facet of the gigantic concept of “normal” to focus on. There are so many ways to go with this. I have a hard time with this because I take for granted the subjectivity and relativity to such a degree my whole life that I have to take a step closer in and try to think IN the box so that I can produce the motion of stepping OUT of it. So as usual, I’m talking to friends and strangers again.
In mathematics the bell curve is “normal”- the whole thing including the tiny parts at the tails that might be considered “deviant” when compared to the Mean but without which the curve is no longer “normal”.
It occurs to me that when people talk about normal, they mean the average as in the Mean, but when they talk about Average, it implies a positive-negative scale from “below average” to “above average” and most people want to think of themselves as about average (meaning average is slightly less of whatever quality than they are). We see this expressing itself tangibly in grade inflation: a C isn’t actually average anymore, but a sign of failure.
When most of us think of Normal we think of it in contrast to weird, or Deviant. Normal is almost a center point of any given culture or micro-culture and the farther you stray from it, the more deviant you are from that particular cultural center (which may put you dead-center in another micro-culture). The weird thing is that this is only the public face of deviant. There are many “deviant” behaviors which are in fact “normal” by virtue of being practiced by more than half the population secretly (thank you graduate class in social psychology!). Most of them involve sex.
Which brings us to another thing- context. Even allowing for culture and micro cultures, many things are still regulated to a time and place: what is perfectly normal at a New Year’s Eve office party is not normal at the office with the same people the following week. Ritual Space (in which I include things like New Year’s, Mardi Gras, football games) is designed for accommodating things outside the norm in a marked time and place so it doesn’t mess up the everyday Normal.
When trying to grapple with any of this visually in how it applies to people I find myself drawn irresistibly to fashion over and over again. It is how we declare ourselves. When we go into a ritual space, like Prom for example, we put on special clothes to transform ourselves to fit thoroughly into that space. Hair and clothing are the parts of our appearance that we have some control over, and I think it’s reasonable to say that they have been used since their earliest existence as social indicators: culture, status, micro-culture, profession, marital status, income, religion, hobbies, sexual orientation, gender orientation… there are ways people show all of these things by what they wear. People protest the status quo through clothing (think about punks and feminists), and they align to it with clothing.
Clothing also goes through cycles of revolution into status quo. Today the most average, normal clothing you can wear as a man or woman in the USA is probably jeans and a tee shirt… but in the 50’s those were rebel wear, popularized by James Dean in Rebel without a cause and Marlon Brando in Streetcar named Desire. “Deviant” often becomes normal over time. There is a potential to explore that as well.
I realized that in this case, I don’t want to get into physical differences- unless you have surgery it’s not a personal choice. Far more interesting to me is self-identification and the expression of it. So… perhaps this is why I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to fashion. I’ve been to three fashion exhibits in museums in the past couple months. I make and design more and more clothing… but until my last sculpture it was a hobby. I don’t know how it will come into this project yet, but I’m convinced that it is the way to go. We’ll see what form it takes.
By the way- what does “normal mean to you?